Professional arse-licker Nick Hewer (@Nick_Hewer) knows all about scrounging money from the tax payer. Recently he was part of an £3.5 million ad campaign to promote DWP pension reforms. As viewers of The Apprentice will know, Hewer is not the type of man to bite the hand that feeds him. This is perhaps one reason why last night’s documentary – unpleasantly called We Pay Your Benefits – portrayed a benefits system that is a million miles away from the one experienced by most claimants in their daily lives.
When not fleecing the DWP, Hewer, along with co-presenter Margaret Mountford are both on the take from the television licence payer. Both have been paid handsomely for a string of publicly funded TV shows – which is nice work if you can get it, if you can call it work, which you can’t.
Being a volunteer youth worker, or a single parent is work, yet there was no recognition of this in last night’s programme. Instead low paid workers were pitted against claimants in a tragic race to the bottom. Seeing someone on shit wages themselves condemning someone for giving their children two meals a day was genuinely shocking. Elsewhere this claimant was judged for having a dog, and a hamster. It is difficult to know what conditions the children would have had to be living in to satisfy the ‘tax payer’ brought in to scrutinise the spending of a struggling single mum.
Low paid workers and benefit claimants should be on the same side, not least because many low paid workers are benefit claimants. This point was sadly neglected by last night’s programme along with the fact that benefit claimants are also tax payers.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the show was that it only showed one side of the story. The young graduate – who is far likelier to get his hoped for career by volunteering as a youth worker than by working in a pound shop – is in no way typical of hundreds of thousands of young people desperate for any job. The programme didn’t show the endless Jobcentre harassment that young unemployed people face, the thousands of unpaid workfare workers or the desperation faced by those with just £56.80 a week to live on and who don’t have a supportive family member who pays the bills.
Whilst there was a brief nod to child poverty, with one family shown to be dependent on food banks, there were no families living in B&Bs not knowing even which city they might end up in due to the benefit cap. And there was no sign of the people who have seen meagre incomes almost cut in half because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit reforms or no mention of those left with nothing at all due to benefit sanctions.
Whether by accident or design, this programme could not have been a better piece of propaganda for Nick Hewer’s former employers at the DWP. Once again the message was clear, unemployment is a personal moral failing and not the fault of a fucked economy. Not once was it pointed out that you cannot fit two and a half million unemployed people into half a million vacancies. Whilst the frustration of the ‘tax payers’ in the show was milked for all it was worth, none of them seemed to want to swap their lives with those of the claimants.
If social security was abolished it would be a disaster for low paid workers, who are the most vulnerable to periods of unemployment. If not having a job meant starvation – rather than just nagging hunger as is increasingly the case – then employers would have even more freedom to treat low paid staff like dirt and slash wages. Any privatised insurance scheme which replaced the benefits system would cost far more for far less protection – social security is good value for everyone but the rich.
Benefit bashing often seems to have become the UK’s favourite blood sport, as people lash out in vengeance at those beneath them for their own shit finances. And fuck all that dignity of work crap, there is nothing dignified about working all the hours God sends, never seeing your kids, and being paid a pittance for the privilege by some laughing boy billionaire like Alan Sugar. It’s a shit deal and most people know it. No-one who wins the lottery really carries on working at ASDA. Instead of looking down their nose at claimants, perhaps it’s time people started to look at who is really getting rich on the back of our work.
One incident last night showed that not everyone is intent on demolishing the welfare state so the rich can fuck us even harder. The hashtag #happytopayyourbenefits emerged on twitter shortly after the programme ended and quickly began to trend. Hundreds, if not thousands of people voiced their support for social security. It was emotional. You had to be there.
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